Sunday, March 26, 2006

Judicial Impacts

A post today borne out of my Sunday morning newspaper skimming and not out of any hard facts. One of the issues that is important to me personally is "youth flight," in which upstate NY (and a lot of the northeast) lose capable younger folks to areas with more opportunities. It's alternately called "brain drain", which I dislike because I don't relate the phenomenon to intelligence.

However, I do wonder about some of the impacts on our legal system. The most obvious connection, I think, is to the pool of defendants who will repeatedly be coming through the system. I'm also wondering if there's ever been a study into the quality of legal services offered, especially in the most rural counties. Which isn't to say there aren't good lawyers in such places--idle speculation on my part having grown up in a rural area. Lastly, my mind wanders to the effects on the judiciary itself. If towns are losing population, especially the population with potential and capacity, who is remaining behind to run for the elective offices? Again, it may be a non-issue, but when I'm reading of the declining population and the continuing population loss, I start to wonder about some of these issues. In another 15-20 years, will there be competent and committed people in some of these areas to run for town justice? Do we need to move to another system in upstate, such as district courts?

Idle speculation, but I think it's related to the foresight we need as a profession and as citizens of the state.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Crim Pro, Redux

A while back, I posted a bit on criminal law, dealing with the mostly (fortunately) unasked "how can you defend those people?" question. My answer delved a bit into the mechanics of criminal procedure. As a followup, there was an interesting article on one of those notorious female teacher/male student cases, which touches briefly on why someone receives a plea deal even when there is significant evidence for conviction as charged.

As a followup to the followup, a second article touches on the same case, as there were charges in two counties.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Citizen Lawsuits

SmallTownLawyer has an interesting snippet from an article out of the Plattsburg Press-Republican on his blog. It seems various groups are planning a SEQRA suit to contest recent local laws concerning the siting of wind turbines.

Proceeding pro se is a Constitutional right, but rarely a good idea in complex litigation. Especially when activists are very caught up in the issue and probably not presenting information in the most relevant format to the court (ie, the mention of internet-derived health data by the town's high-powered Mr. Spitzer (not the AG)).

In a not-dissimilar fashion, opponents of a proposed Potsdam Wal*Mart recently had their suit tossed (subscription required, sorry) out of Supreme Court. The reasons were also not dissimilar as to the ones that will probably get this one dismissed. In short, there is a difference between socially- or environmentally- relevant data and legally-relevant data.

As an activist, you may have data on the cancer rates associated with a proposed project that would make an epidemiologist wake up screaming every night. You may have mountains of evidence of scurrilous economic practices. But when you are challenging based on compliance with SEQRA, one needs to present the evidence properly. And for that, my legal opinion is that one needs a lawyer.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Eviction, again.

I don't really mean to beat a dead horse with this, but hopefully a post will (1) help someone who is googling this issue and (2) allow me to vent so my blood pressure drops into less-fatal levels.

If you are a tenant and you are late in the rent, or the landlord claims you are late in the rent, the landlord's first step is to issue a "three day notice", alternately a "pay or quit" notice. This is like the warning shot across the bow, to use a completely irrelevant analogy. A three day notice is simply the landlord's way of saying "I believe you owe me, and if you don't pay it, we're going to court."

I post, because in the period I've been in the office today, I've dealt with (1) a landlord who changed the locks after the three days had run and (2) a tenant who thought the three day was invalid because it wasn't signed by a judge.

To repeat: a three day is a business matter between landlord and tenant. It can even be an oral notice, as long as it's in the rough form of "You owe me $X and pay by Y." If it's written, there are some more formal requirements in the Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law. Generally, though, if the notice gets to the tenant it's presumed to be good enough by local courts, even if not strictly in compliance with the law. No signature of judge, lawyer, head bison or anyone else is required.

At the same time, while a landlord can easily issue this notice, the legal effect is to alert the tenant of the coming lawsuit. There is no right to dispossess the tenant solely because he or she hasn't paid up following the three days. The remedy then, as always, is to pay the filing fee and start an eviction proceeding in the local court.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Supremes

Interesting article recently on "how to get to the Supreme Court," but I'm posting the link to it for a more mundane reason: tips on advocacy before a court. Everyone has their own style, of course, but I think reading/seeing/hearing others is a help in shaping one's own technique. For example, this article warns against being tied to a set and practiced spiel. That, in itself, is something I would agree with. But I would also be wary of carrying that too far and underpreparing. If you get a "cold" bench, it may behoove you to have something prepared. I speak from experience on this one. I've been inc ourt with a good command of the facts and the law, and then the judge didn't have any questions but instead wanted me to revisit my basic arguments and walk him through the connections and analogies I was making. I made it through, to a moderately successful result, but knowing facts and citations wasn't enough without the themes and linkages.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

I'm a law-abiding sort of guy, and I respect law enforcement professionals. It's a job that's full of danger, long hours, and less-than-stellar pay, doing a necessary and sometimes ugly task to protect us all. But the question above, which translates as "Who guards the guards?" seems increasingly relevant in Upstate NY. In Watertown, City Police Officer VanWaldick put several shots into the chest of an ex-girlfriend's boss/friend after breaking into the victim's home. Previously, the police had been called when he was stalking/harassing this ex and, according to reports in the Watertown press, the local cops didn't take official action. Here in Jamestown, Officer Michael Watson was arrested for troubling behavior involving allegedly stalking/harassing various women, some of which was allegedly known to other officers. Then in today's Plattsburg paper, there's this story that two officers returning from a training session may have had a few drinks before their auto accident. From that area, although I don't have links, there was a long-running case in Ticonderoga involving an officer allegedly taking his 17 year old girlfriend to Glens Falls bars.

I don't want to single out a few bad actors/bad apples as a condemnation of the entire group. The problem, from my standpoint as a Con Law lawyer, is that Equal Protection and Due Process require the laws to apply equally and fairly. What runs through all these stories is the dreaded "appearance of impropriety." Maybe the actions by police departments in each case were the sort of discretionary acts usually done in vehicle accident/domestic/harassment incidents, in deciding whether or not to make arrests or file reports. However, given the special status of the police in our legal system, the situation in each case ends up looking ugly and looking like special treatment for certain alleged offenders, which only hurts the effectiveness of law enforcement when their credibility and actions can be called into question.

Year One

When I was a high school nerd, the comic book craze of the moment in DC comics was "Year One" tales, retellings and reupdatings of the origins of classic heroes. Which has nothing to do with anything other than pondering today's blog post started me down some nostalgiac path.

This week is the first anniversary of my admission to practice law, along with many of my friends and former classmates. I'd like to ask the phantom readers to respond with comments, thoughts, and experiences picked up from that first year of practice. Great experiences, bad experiences, lessons learned, etc...whatever you would like to share.

One of the most interesting experiences for me has been meeting the legal community. Those who know me personally know that I hadn't ever talked to a lawyer before starting law school, so I was going in blind and somewhat idealistic. I've been pleasantly surprised with the people I've met, and that's quite a few since Jamestown has more lawyers than human beings. There are the assorted less-than-professional types in practice, and I'm disappointed to see when people noted for their lack of ethics and horrible tactics continue to thrive, but by and large it's been worthwhile to see the various approaches to law and life exhibited all around me.

So that's deeper and more philosophical than really intended...but that's what I want here, whatever strikes you as you think about the first year.